Uncommon Ground

Centralized Power

Republicans are shoveling hurtful laws into our communities, dismantling years of collaborative work by self-governing towns

By Mike Jopek

To many, this century’s roaring twenties is booming like never before. For others the sense of homelessness looms. The rent is way too high. And many two wage-earner households can’t purchase a home in the Flathead.

Montana Republicans took the reins and centralized power by ending an effective local solution to worker housing in Whitefish and statewide. After years, really decades, of collaboration by the local business community and citizens, the governor signed into law an outrageously preemptive law that repeals local authority for a self-governing city that steered basic services like safe housing toward workers.

Republicans also took health decisions away from educated scientists, giving them to elected politicians. They took away local government’s ability to analyze rich agricultural soils in places like Creston during subdivision review, and made it much harder for towns to guide growth via architectural standards.

In Bozeman, one of the fastest growing areas of our state, the housing prices exploded much like in our small resort town of Whitefish, a place of less than 5,000 voters and 1 million visiting annual tourists. 

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle recently reported that “the median sales price for single-family homes in March was $704,750, a roughly $100,000 increase from February and a 45.3% increase from a median price of $485,000 in March 2020.”

For the Flathead Valley, the Daily Inter Lake recently reported that “median sales prices for single family homes increased 39.3% from March 2020 to March 2021, up to $485,000.”

In D.C., only Sen. Jon Tester voted to allocate affordable housing dollars to help workers in our exploding real estate market in Montana. The two Republicans didn’t help. Washington should allocate help directly to places like Whitefish and Bozeman, cities contemptibly targeted by Montana to repeal effective and local affordable housing ordinances. 

Work camps are coming to West Glacier, so says Flathead County. Imagine it like glamorous camping but with manual labor, little room service, and an international skillset. 

This unprecedented power grab by Republicans to centralize power is not solely aimed at our working towns. The state targeted everyone from trans kids to gerrymandering justice with how our Supreme Court is elected. They’re working to dismantle protections granted in our Constitution for a “clean and healthful environment” while stripping women’s right to choose.

Local Republicans passed a bill overturning a citizens’ initiative so Montanans no longer get a vote on whether nuclear power plants are built in places like the Flathead. It’s now up to the governor, who previously signed into law the repeal of same day voter registration. A law Montanan’s affirmed at the ballot box by 57% just six years ago.

There are so few affordable rentals in the Flathead that workers, who provide the service of running a place, have few options. Many apartment complexes throughout the valley recently sold, with tenants displaced for remodels and higher rent.

The stress housing is causing our neighbors, local businesses, and coworkers is immense. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough. For many, the individual economic outcome to an unprecedented market boom will be disastrous.

We’re headed for hot summers of work camps, commutes, businesses forced to own dorm-like housing, and more internationally skilled workers making stuff happen across our towns. 

The Montana Republicans worsened the housing crisis in Whitefish. The harm they did to our small town will be borne by local families. Montana’s housing preemption, targeted specifically at Whitefish, hurts our town, working people, and downtown business owners.

All this unfettered growth and corporate land speculation will soon translate to much higher homeowner property taxes as state reappraisal was again left unmitigated by lawmakers, who returned home seeking accolades for their work. Montana’s new centralized government is shoveling hurtful laws into our communities, dismantling years of collaborative work by self-governing towns. 

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.